At the beginning of The Wolfpack, we see six brothers re-enacting Reservoir Dogs, complete with wardrobe, sound effects and impressive homemade prop-guns. It’s immediately noticeable that these dudes know their lines in a way that suggests this is their 200th run-through—at least. They also do impressive impersonations of Tim Roth dying from his gunshot wound, Steve Buscemi yelling and Michael Madsen taunting.
Turns out they have had plenty of time to get the scenes just right.
These are the Angulo brothers, nicknamed “The Wolfpack,” and they’re the subject of Crystal Moselle’s bizarre and wonderful documentary—a movie that gives new meaning to “shut-in.”
They have spent the majority of their lives indoors, because their paranoid parents inexplicably moved them to the Lower East Side of Manhattan—where their father basically kept them locked up. They were homeschooled; they were advised to not talk to strangers; and they were allowed ample access to movies and television. The movies and television became their only real contact with society.
The boys sit for many interviews with Moselle, reminiscing about their upbringing and casually comparing their home to a prison. The oldest (20 at the time of filming), Bhagavan, recounts how he decided to venture outside one day as an experiment, wearing his impressive, self-designed Michael Myers Halloween mask. In full costume, he visited stores, banks, etc.
He also wound up arrested and later incarcerated in a mental institution. A bemused Bhagavan recalls his incarceration time, almost as if it was his awakening period—his final journey into manhood. Meanwhile, his brothers went so crazy in isolation that they shaved off their eyebrows.
Their parents, Oscar and Susanne, were followers of the Hare Krishna mantra and wanted to raise their kids in a commune-like setting. That makes the choice of Manhattan a very strange one. While Susanne appears frequently and early on in the movie, Oscar is more of an ominous presence off to the side. There are a few frightening moments in which he’s seen drinking—clearly upset that he is losing control of his sons.
The instinct while watching this film is to think of Oscar and Susanne as terrible, hyper-protective parents. However, one thing is for certain: These are some intelligent, charming young men they’ve raised. I’m not condoning their child-rearing methods, which apparently involved physical abuse to go along with the 24-hour captivity. The Angulo brothers are simply proof that something terrific can sometimes arise from dire and difficult circumstances.
Their level of creativity goes beyond line deliveries. They’ve concocted amazing Batman costumes out of cereal boxes, and yoga mats that come mighty close in appearance to the ones used in the Christian Bale movies. They re-create, word for word, the car-cleaning scene from Pulp Fiction, with one of them doing an incredible, dead-on impersonation of Samuel L. Jackson’s temper tantrum—while another nails John Travolta’s mannerisms.
Oscar’s intent was for his kids to become famous someday. Maybe they would be a band, or maybe they would be movie stars. Strangely enough, Oscar’s intentions have come true. He’s achieved his goals at the cost of his children’s respect, though: None of them seem too pleased with dear old Dad in this film.
Thankfully, the Angulo brothers have ventured outside more since meeting Moselle, getting jobs as production assistants and taking part in demonstrations. As The Wolfpack wraps, it appears that they will be leaving their drinking father and dark apartment behind—or are at least making an effort to do so.
Moselle closes with a short film on which Bhagavan is working—one in which he sits at a window and watches different emotions pass by. It’s remarkable, and it leaves you thinking the Angulo brothers might just have a future in filmmaking.
The Wolfpack is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).